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NHS band continues championship crescendo

The Naugatuck High School marching band performs at the USBands Open Class National Championships Nov. 15 in East Rutherford, N.J. –CONTRIBUTED
The Naugatuck High School marching band performs at the USBands Open Class National Championships Nov. 15 in East Rutherford, N.J. –CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck High School marching band has been a part of borough history for many decades, taking the football field to entertain the crowd. For the past 30 years, though, the marching band has been taking the field in its own competitions and has made a name for itself in the process.

The marching band became a competitive program in 1984.

“We’re lucky because [the Naugatuck School District is] fortunate enough to host and sponsor a competitive marching band program. Not a lot of districts have that,” Band Director Robert Hughes said.

In addition to playing music, the band, which includes a full color guard, creates an eight minute show with marching drills. Once the band has mastered the drills and music, it tours the state competing against other high school marching bands. Naugatuck High also hosts the annual competition, Thunder in the Valley.

The band competes in the Musical Arts Conference. Hughes took over as band director four years ago and, under his direction, the marching band has won the MAC championship every year.

The band competes in Class III and the first two years under Hughes there were no other bands in the class.

“We’ve won the MAC championship for four years, but the first couple years there was nobody in our class. It kind of doesn’t really count. Recently we’ve been lucky because we’ve actually had people in our class to compete against, so it’s more legitimate,” Hughes said.

This year the marching band, which had about 70 members, took first place with a Sherlock Holmes-themed show that included a storyline woven into the band’s performance.

Russell Andrew, a senior and alto sax player, has performed with the marching band for all four years at Naugatuck High. He was happy to end his career with a MAC championship.

“It was so exciting because the whole season that is what you are working for. You want to break that box five score, which is a 90, and really push to the top, push to the next level, and be better than all the other bands. To get there is really, really exciting,” Andrew said.

Senior and Drum Major Emily Griffin, who has performed with the marching band for the past three years, said winning the championship against other bands has boosted the NHS band’s morale.

“We have something to really work for and something to show for it. It makes the band really feel more togetherness because we are really working towards a common goal at the competition,” Griffin said.

In addition to the MAC competition, the marching band competed on a national level for the first time at the USBands Open Class National Championships Nov. 15 in East Rutherford, N.J. There were 17 Class III groups.

“We came in 11th overall, which was awesome for the experience and for our first time ever having performed in a national championship. And we get to boast we are 11th in the country, which is kind of nice,” Hughes said.

Championships are great, but Hughes is also thrilled that the band has grown in size and popularity during his tenure. Hughes said every year there are more students that want to participate.

“This year I had an awesome influx of color guard students. They obviously contribute to the visual package: spinning rifles, sabers and flags,” Hughes said.

Hughes said he has also seen the band grow in its talents and ability to take on more and harder routines.

“Over the course of the four years I think the show design and development has progressed. At the beginning we were just getting something out there, getting the kids moving and playing. Every year we try to add on different elements. We had a space-themed show that was more thematic. In my second and third year we added more visual elements. This year we actually had a story line the audience could follow from beginning to end,” Hughes said.

Hughes said one of the reasons the program has growth is students are beginning to realize the marching band is a great place for personal growth as well as musical growth.

“It gives them a greater exposure to a particular activity within the arts. They learn the craft of being able to play their instruments much better by being able to participate in this extracurricular program. In addition to that it teaches them a lot of really key life skills about discipline, commitment, perseverance, which are hard to get in a traditional classroom setting,” Hughes said. “Students are choosing to be in this activity, which does require a huge time commitment. The skills they learn to manage their time and do all that successfully they can take and apply later on in life.”

Andrew echoed Hughes’ comments, saying he was happy to have played alongside so many people.

“I’ve had a lot of fun in marching band, especially because you get to meet really nice people and work on something together as a team to accomplish a great goal,” Andrew said.

Although the marching band has brought home titles the past four years, the success still surprises Hughes.

“Every year I am very happy and very proud with the direction of the program and the success we’ve had in that season. When the season is over I say to myself, ‘Wow, this season was so great, I don’t know how we can do it again next year. How are we going to top this? How are we going to make it better?’ We’ve been pretty fortunate that we have been able to do that continuously, and it’s because of the support I have from my administration, the parents and my staff that we’re able to do that,” Hughes said.

Hughes said it was too early to have started officially planning for the next season, but the staff has already been discussing possible ideas.

“I think next year should be equal, if not better than, this past fall’s production,” Hughes said.